Fifty Ways To Thank Our Armed Forces!

Spending time in the UK led me to discover some amazing day to day aspects of British society treats people in general, and the armed forces in particular. In the last couple of days, I took the opportunity of visiting St John’s House, Museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (Royal Warwickshire). The museum tells the story of over 300 years of history of the County Regiment, from its raising in 1674 to the Fusiliers of today…a fascinating journey!

What was more fascinating for me was my conversation with a veteran, Major James Fullarton, who was visiting the

St Johns Museum, Warwick

St Johns Museum, Warwick

museum. Major Fullarton was curious to know why an Indian woman was visiting this particular museum as he said not many foreigners are seen here. I explained my background of being an Indian army brat and we started talking. His grandfather had served in the British army in India in the 1920s and his father served in the Royal Navy. Our conversation led us to discussing many things about the state of the armed forces world over and he shared some things that made me feel proud & elated, yet, disappointed & sad. Proud & elated because the community of armed forces world over is based on the same set of ethos and principles, unlike the governments they are part of. Disappointed & sad because we in India, do not do half the things that British, American or any European society does for their soldiers.

Part of my learning that from Major Fullarton is compiled into what I would call Fifty Ways to thank our armed forces and this includes veterans and military wives and children. 1_Flag_of_Armed_Forces_in_India

  1. Listen to their stories with interest. If they have fought wars or are a war-veteran they have seen things you will never see. Listen & learn.
  2. Initiate a special talk by anyone from the armed forces fraternity in your schools or colleges.
  3. Greet a soldier in uniform or a veteran with a smile and a thank you.
  4. Start a social drive for them. Gather people in the neighbourhood or like minded people and work on a veteran oriented project.
  5. Make greeting cards and post them to the soldiers, veterans and their families you know.
  6. Send e cards using social media.
  7. Post messages of gratitude in social media pages dedicated to the Indian Armed Forces. Some of the pages are Indian Defence Review, Defence & Security Alert, Indian Defence News, Indian Defence, etc
  8. If there are veterans & their families in your neighbourhood, acknowledge them on special days like Indian Armed Forces Flag Day, Republic Day and Independence Day.
  9. Invite veterans, soldiers and their families to give a talk on those special days. army women
  10. Those of you who knit, sew or embroider, make something for veterans or their families and gift it to them.
  11. If you are dining out or having a coffee or a drink and you know there is a member of the armed forces (serving or retired), invite them to join you. I promise you…you will have a great conversation.
  12. Do a random act of kindness for the members of Indian Armed Forces.
  13. Visit War Memorials in different parts of India, whenever you travel next. You will also meet some of the serving soldiers then. Talk to them…listen to them.
  14. Talk to your children about the pride we have and ought to have in our military. Instil in them the value of being a nationalist and a patriot.
  15. Open your homes on festivals for soldiers on leave, veterans and families. Make it an occasion they will not forget…neither will you.
  16. As parents and teachers, encourage your young ones to write about the Indian Armed Forces. Post it on social media.
  17. Whenever & wherever you hear our national anthem playing, stop, stand and give a thought to our security forces. They have sacrificed for us hear the national anthem. join-indian-defence-forces
  18. Employers – look beyond the usual hiring process and re-employ veterans. They can truly bring a lot of strength to your organization.
  19. Organizations – do not stereo type members of the Indian Armed Forces. You do not know what potential they bring to the table. Think out of the box…they did when they had to save your freedom.
  20. You will find a lot of car stickers that say Army, Navy, Air Force or Armed Forces. Leave a thank you note on the windshield. You will make their day.
  21. Find out which businesses or companies support veterans in your areas or communities. Become their customers.
  22. If you are running a business yourself, offer discounts to your veterans, soldiers and their families.
  23. Check if the local armed forces hospital will allow you to spend time with recovering soldiers and families. Become a support system there.
  24. Do you know parents of soldiers or veterans? Thank them for raising India’s true heroes.
  25. Proudly display “I love Indian Armed Forces” “I support Indian Armed Forces” stickers on your vehicles. Saluting Our Heroes
  26. If there is a military member at the same restaurant as you, send across a drink or dessert expressing your gratitude.
  27. Support war widows in their endeavour to stand on their own.
  28. Find out Ex Service Men organizations that support children of our martyrs. Work with them in enabling and empowering those children.
  29. Become part of developmental projects in villages and towns our war heroes come from. One such project is the Vir Sainik Graam Yojana.
  30. With the help of your local corporator, mayor, panchayat head, district officer or politician organize an event acknowledging and rewarding our veterans.
  31. With the same people helping, you could also organize a pot luck lunch and invite the local community and veterans.
  32. Take a couple of veterans and their families out for a picnic. Swap life stories…you will realise how different their lives are.
  33. Get in touch with local army schools and see how you can help in some of their projects.
  34. Talk to the local army formations and see what kind of community initiatives they run. The Indian Army has some projects going on where they work with civil society. Become part of those.
  35. A number of Ex Service Men organisations also work with local army formations for certain initiatives. Connect with them and contribute your time and skills.
  36. If you have a special talent, offer to teach that talent to children of soldiers and veterans.
  37. Donate your “air miles” to a veteran family you know.
  38. It is not the job of a military man to campaign or publicize what they do. We can do it for them. It also shows how proud we are of them, what they do to protect us.
  39. A group of like minded people can come together and hold an exhibition with the help of veterans on a particular military theme.
  40. As civilians let us ensure our government does it’s duty, so our Armed Forces can do what they do best – protect our country.
  41. During a family union, please raise a toast to the veterans in your family – immediate and extended. Express your gratitude.
  42. Teach children and the youth of our country India’s proud history and legacy. We have much to be proud of and this legacy we have to pass on to our next generations.
  43. Pass out small flags on Armed Forces Day in your neighbourhood. Share small stories that you know or get people to share those stories with you.
  44. Dedicate a patriotic song in honour of a veteran or active soldier on your favourite radio channel.
  45. Offer a pick up or drop to the airport or railway station to your veteran neighbour and their families.
  46. Encourage your kids to spend time with the veterans or active soldiers whenever there is an opportunity. They will learn a lot. martyrs-day
  47. Teach children patriotic songs and get them to sing them on various occasions.
  48. Employers & Companies – host a special lunch for your veteran colleagues. Acknowledge their contribution to the growth of your company and your country.
  49. Vote. Exercise your franchise. Don’t let their sacrifices come to a naught. A good citizen votes to protect the freedom of our country. Do not take that freedom for granted. Our soldiers have paid with their lives for that freedom. Value it, cherish it.
  50. To truly honour our armed forces make the best of the opportunity the sacrifices of our fighting men and women have provided. Love India with passion, and do what you can to make it a better place.

Who is a military man? A military man – whether active duty, retired or in reserve or re employed – who at one point in his/her life signed a blank cheque made payable to the “Republic of India” for an amount of “up to & including his/her life.” That is honour. A lot of people do not appreciate or acknowledge or understand that fact.

Let us stand up for them, raise our caps, raise a toast and salute the honour and integrity of these brave hearts.

Jai Hind Ki Sena!

Flying On The Wings of Fire…

“Death’s got an Invisibility Cloak?” Harry interrupted again. “So he can sneak up on people,” said Ron.                                        – Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

The invisible cloak of death covered Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and took him away in a moment.Although death and its coming is always a surprise, but its nature should not be. While this event is painful we still embrace the eventuality. His greatness was in the simplicity of his nature in our midst – a caring leader who made time for all and opened the doors of Rashtrapati Bhavan for all. Dr Kalam once said, “I should not be the only one to enjoy the grandeur of this wonderful place…the history, the rich library, the legacy of our country. I want everyone to do the same, especially the youth.” He truly believed that the ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful force on this earth.

A great believer of the heritage we have inherited, he always said that the youth of our country have grown up with our Abdul-Kalam-Thoughts-wallpapers-images-pictures-2-300x196value systems, they will uphold it. Fulfilling his vision for the youth and our country is something that we can all strive for in our own way. Dr Kalam said that all of us do not have the equal talent, but all of us have equal opportunity to develop our talent. Let us show our respect to him by helping create those opportunities for everyone.

One of life’s lesson we can learn from Dr Kalam is how to handle failure. He once told a group of children that dealing with failure is a national character. We, as Indians have to work on building that character. His own example of handling failures in life is to be admired and followed. As a student, he was very keen on becoming a pilot in the Indian Air Force. He worked towards that and applied to the IAF. There were nine vacancies and he, unfortunately for the Indian Air Force & fortunately for the rest of India, was the tenth candidate. As a result, Dr Kalam did not selected. Was he disappointed? Yes, he was. Did it stop him from becoming successful otherwise? No, it did not. That is why I say, unfortunately for the IAF and fortunately for the rest of India…because he could not become a pilot and fly, he became a scientist who developed air crafts and missiles for the country. His passion for flying made him find alternate channels to live his dream.

One of Shakespeare’s quote from Romeo & Juliet makes perfect sense…

“When he shall die,
Take him and put him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

While it is natural to mourn the death of a great one, it is also important to keep him alive by working towards fulfilling his vision. Dr Kalam set out such bench marks for all of us to follow and achieve. Having personally heard him on a number of occasions, I once had the opportunity of interacting with him for a few minutes. I walked away from that interaction with so much food for thought. I shared with him about two people who had worked with him in the Ministry of Defence and the same two men had influenced my upbringing and my life…Dr Kalam remembered my father and my god father and told me I was lucky to have been influenced by such stalwarts. Not only did he remember them, he also remembered their little quirks and idiosyncrasies.

The human heart is always greedy for more. Yes, I wish you were with us for a few more years to continue guiding us, to continue helping us grow. You have also left us with so many aspirations and dreams for this country. So, today, more than grieving for you Dr Kalam, my way of paying tribute to you would be to strive to make some part of your vision a reality.

Honouring you Sir…

We stand here and watch them bury you today,
They say you are gone, left this life behind,
That’s not true, for in our hearts you will forever live,
In our thoughts you’ll always be there for us to find.

We honour your life with flowers and speeches,
We honour you with the love in our hearts,
You will never and can never be replaced,
Even in your death you set a standard apart.

You were one of the greatest this country has seen,
You inspired millions to never give up on their dreams
Your memories will be honoured, your life celebrated,
Your vision for all of us will be turned into a reality.

I know you look down from that missile you created,
I can feel the pride you have for everyone of us,
You give us strength and the will to continue
And will be for as long as we are alive.

You showed us that life is not just the here and the now,
It is then and there as well,
Your death, as your life, taught us the greatest lesson,
That we should not on our failures dwell

Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.

Rest in peace Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

A Soldier Never Gives Up…The Battle At Badgam

Continuing the series on A Soldier Never Gives Up, we move to the next theatre of the 1947 war.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston S. Churchill

As 1 Sikh stalled the attack of the Raiders on the Srinagar – Baramulla highway, it provided tremendous opportunity for the other units to land in Srinagar airport. The impetus to fight the enemy was increasing by the minute. One of the units that landed on 31st October 1947 was 4 Kumaon.

Major Somnath Sharma

Major Somnath Sharma

On 3rd November, fighting patrols under A & D Company of 4 Kumaon, under the command of Major Somnath Sharma were moved to Badgam (30 odd kms away from Srinagar) to hunt down and destroy the Raiders who were hiding in and around the area. Intelligence reports had warned us that 1000 strong lashkar was in the area, with the intention of attacking Srinagar. The Battalion, however, could not find the Raiders. The enemy had used the clever strategy of mixing with the villagers, dressed in local attire. As a result, Major Sharma reports that Badgam is peaceful and quiet, with the villagers going about their routine work. He is ordered to pull his companies back.

At 1400 hours, Major Sharma sends A Company back, but, plans to keep D Company in Badgam till evening. The lashkar was arriving in Badgam in bits and pieces and was led by a Pakistani Major. They had hatched a crafty plan of getting the Pakistani soldiers to mix with the locals, wait for the Pathan Raiders to come to Badgam and then attack the Indian Army. Their plan was to then capture Srinagar, cut off Army access and take over Jammu & Kashmir. It was a well thought of plan.

Troops marching into Battle of Badgam

Troops marching into Battle of Badgam

After A Company is sent back, the “villagers” starting dispersing around the village. Major Sharma was under the impression that the locals were going home. In reality, the Pakistani soldiers and Raiders were positioning themselves around D Company. As soon as they had about 700 men, the enemy attacked us. It was 700 as opposed to 90…we were outnumbered 7:1.

Major Somnath Sharma, with a plastered hand, and total disregard to personal safety, moved from trench to trench encouraging his men to fight. The Company was under heavy fire, yet, they were beating back many attacks and held on to their position for nearly six hours. Holding back tenaciously, urging his men to fight, he radioed for more ammunition, reinforcements and supplies. Those 6 hours, while D Company was fighting valiantly, gave Indian Army the much required precious time to plug the gaps as they built up strength along with Indian Air Force.

Major Sharma’s last message, when he was asked to pull out, as they were heavily out numbered, is testimony to hiscourage and valour. He said, “The enemy is only 50 yards from us. We are heavily out numbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and last round.” This was the brave heart who in the last few moments of being alive, rushed to help one of his men load and fire a light machine gun. While he was doing this, a bomb landed on the ammunition dump next to him, exploding and killing Major Sharma immediately.

Pathan Camp

Pathan Camp

On seeing the enemy closing in with the LMG post, Sepoy Dewan Singh of D Company, stood up with the LMG firing from his hip and killed many of the advancing attackers. His murderous fore stopped many a Raider and Pakistani soldier dead. However, he too died, with his body riddled with bullets. Seeing two of their brave hearts die like this, inspired the rest of D Company to continue fighting. Simultaneously, Indian Air Force Spitfires started chasing the Raiders from the sky, killing many and  forcing the others to flee.

The Battle of Badgam continued and on 5th November the village was captured back by the Indian Army. Bodies of 300 Raiders were conuted, which proved how ruthless the fighting had been. Retaliatory fire had been so harsh that the Pathans had not been able to pick up their dead. It was with this tenacity, fierceness and nationalistic fervour that our soldiers fought to save the Valley. As the Raiders were not trained soldiers, their resolve to continue the fight disappeared and they started withdrawing and pulling back. Srinagar was saved.

Sepoy Dewan Singh

Sepoy Dewan Singh

In this battle, Indian Army lost Major Somnath Sharma, Sepoy Dewan Singh, Subedar Prem Singh Mehta and 20 other ranks. 26 people were wounded. For his gallantry, fierce defence and exemplary leadership, Major Somanth Sharma was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) posthumously. He was the first PVC of independent India. Sepoy Dewan Singh was awarded Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) for his exceptional valour.

I am sure that when Major Sharma and D Company were fighting they had their own fears. When I think about our Army fighting wars, I always wonder what goes on in their minds, in their hearts, how scared are they, how steely is their resolution….and am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” All I can say is thank God we have an Army that conquers its fears and strikes terror in the hearts of it’s enemies.

The Race To Dhaka – 1971 & Beyond

Forty three years ago India stood tall on this day as the Indian Armed Forces came of age, from fighting tactical battles to perfecting the art of joint services collaboration and multi-theatre war.The Pakistan army’s surrender was a victory of India’s intelligence agencies, diplomacy and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

On this historical day, Pakistan army’s Commander of East Pakistan – Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi – surrendered before Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, who was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. Lt Gen Niazi took off his lanyard, badges of rank and pistol and signed the surrender document marking the end of a 13-day blitzkrieg. This was the only war that the independent Indian Army planned, executed and carried out with precision and captured 93,000 prisoners.

I am not going to chronicle the war itself today. I write so that some of my readers do not forget what we as a country did and are capable of  image_3doing. Our politicians and governments have all but forgotten 1971. As a result, our younger generation does not know India’s aggressive attitude that was showcased in December 1971.  This war created a lot of firsts for us:

  • First major victory for a young Indian democracy that helped strengthen the confidence of the leadership and population.
  • First time that the Indian leadership took a decisive action on moral grounds.
  • First time that we violated the UN Charter.
  • First time that we stood up to the US of A, China & Europe.
  • First time that we put our heads together to rectify a mistake that the British had made.
  • First time that India decided the Bangladeshi immigration problem must have a solution that would give Bangla Desh legitimate freedom.

A country that won a war, liberated it’s neighbour, resolved certain geo political issues in the region did not celebrate this victory in a manner image befitting a winner. We let go of our position as a power to reckon with and developed a psyche of shunning/ignoring our defence forces, instead of building the capability & potential of our Armed Forces. Lord Meghnad Desai puts it well, “If we continue to be embarrassed about our Armed Forces, we will never be able to establish leadership in Asia. And it is especially relevant now as Pakistan is not a threat, it is a pin prick, our competitive threat lies in China.”

With the 1971 War, Indira Gandhi achieved a lot, bordering on the impossible. She dismembered Pakistan, permanently reduced its territory and humiliated it militarily. A humiliation from which the country has never recovered, so much so that last week General Pervez Musharraf told a Pakistani channel that he launched the Kargil operation as a ‘tit-for-tat’ for the 1971 war. He lost that war as an army chief, and it was a shame that he brought upon his country is something he conveniently ignored talking about. As did the journalist who interviewed him.  image_1

The war also removed any feelings of inferiority of the Indian Armed Forces. Unfortunately, that’s where it stopped. Post 1971,  we have become a country that refuses to acknowledge the selfless contribution, sacrifices and service of the defence of this country. We do absolutely nothing to invest emotionally in a victory that took place after 8 centuries of foreign domination. In fact, as a nation, we have done precious little emotional investment in our armed forces.

World over, December 25th marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce of the First World War. Homage is being paid to the Indian soldier and his bravery recognized across the European countries. Indian Army’s exploits in Europe, their landing in Marseilles is being celebrated by the French. Israel, even today, celebrates Liberation of Haifa from Ottoman Empire in 1918. Over 900 Indian soldiers became martyrs in a foreign land. Israel acknowledges with gratitude, every year, the supreme sacrifice of those Indian soldiers. It saddens me to say here, in India, we refuse to recognize the victorious exploits of our Armed Forces. 1971 War is all but forgotten by the nation. image_2

A sense of nationalistic pride must be instilled in the younger generation about our achievements and what we are capable of today also. Let us make a beginning by paying tribute to all the known and unknown heroes who have protected India and all Indians for the last 7 decades.

The time has come for us to recognize, acknowledge and salute the soldiers who sacrifice their everything for our something. I felt humbled this morning to meet the war veterans of 1971 at the Vijay Diwas Memorial Service in Bangalore, knowing that they stood tall at our borders, only for us to sleep safely at night.

As a citizen of this great country, I appeal to the 125 crore Indians to pay homage to the Indian Armed Forces, because of whom, we have inherited a favourable geo strategic environment, in which we can build a progressive and prosperous India.

Jai Hind!